Let's face it - sports are a lot more fun to play when there's something to play for. When asked, every player will tell you they want to win the World Series this year. Not everyone gets to do that. As the season progresses, teams fall out of contention, and by September they are 'playing out the string'.
Thanks to the Wild Card construct, the number of teams with something to play for has gone up dramatically. But that doesn't just include those teams vying for a playoff spot. It also includes those teams in their way, who no longer have hopes of getting deep into October.
Two months ago, when looking at the September schedule, one knew the Padres would have games that mattered to play, but only because they played teams trying to get to the post-season and could stand in their way. Los Angeles. San Francisco. St Louis. That's still true. But they also have games that matter to play for their own sake. They have an outside shot at getting to .500 before the season ends. They have a better shot to catch Arizona for third in the West.
I'm glad they're playing well. It makes me smile that they have a chance to torpedo the Dodgers' chances for a playoff spot, and they scored a direct hit last night with the 6-3 win. Maybe they'll administer the coup de grace in late September at Petco. They can also gain a small measure of revenge for years of playoff futility by smacking around the Cardinals next week. They've already left the Pirates playoff ship dead in the water and listing heavily to port by taking 5 of the 6 games from Pittsburgh. That's a lot of nautical references, isn't it?
The games I'm REALLY looking forward to are the 3 here against Arizona this weekend, and the three in AZ in 2 weeks. Why? Because no one in their right mind thought the Padres would finish higher than fourth in this division this year. No one in their right mind thought they'd be within shouting distance of .500 in early September. Yes I realize they need to finish 18-7 to reach .500, and that is a tall order; the mere fact we can talk about it without looking really stupid is a victory.
San Diego last won the season series from Arizona in 2010. They've only won more than 10 games from the Diamondbacks once in their history (12, 2004). If the Padres win both those series they'll match that total. If they win both series they'll catch Arizona in the loss column (assuming they each have identical records in their other games).
I hope (and expect) they'll continue to be a thorn in the side of the Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals down the stretch. Two weeks from now I really hope they'll be looking down at AZ from third place. Wouldn't that be great.